The positive power of wood that makes us feel good
Here is a simple question. When you park your car in an underground urban space, do you feel more comfortable if you are surrounded by grey concrete walls or if the carpark has been lined with bright wooden panels?
Hopefully, you will have chosen the panels. However, this obvious choice raises a fascinating question about one of the most neglected spaces in any town or city, carparks.
Why would any specifier or architect neglect the design potential of this essential space by defaulting to a material that undermines the experience of people who use it?
“We have all experienced that feeling of discomfort when we have parked in an underground carpark that seems badly lit and surrounded by unwelcoming bare walls,” says Knauf Insulation’s Inge Bommerez.
‘Make a positive first impression’
“Car parks should enhance the experience of those who use them not make people feel nervous. These areas are often a visitor’s first experience of a public building such as a hotel, hospital or shopping mall so they offer the ideal opportunity to make a positive first impression.”
As the General Manager of Knauf Insulation’s Wood Wool Business Unit, Inge is ideally qualified to talk about the benefits of improving the experiential dimensions of carparks.
“A very high percentage of our Heraklith Wood Wool sales are to architects who are specifying solutions for car parks. They already know that our solutions come in a wide range of colours, offer exceptional acoustic performance — which is important in noisy carparks — and they know that our panels are available with a non-combustible A2 fire classification rating and are made from sustainable PEFC certified wood sources.
‘Wood Wool is incredibly hard-wearing’
“However, two other aspects are incredibly important — Wood Wool panels are incredibly hard-wearing and can absorb and withstand the knocks and bumps of any busy parking space over the long-term without losing their good looks. And secondly, simply, wood, makes us feel better. It offers us a recognisable connection with nature which makes us feel psychologically more positive,” says Inge.
“We find our Heraklith solutions are particularly popular with large buildings that are used by a lot of people such as airport terminals because specifiers recognise the importance of calming warm spaces that are more welcoming. Wood really delivers because it seems to engage all our senses beyond just visual appeal.”
We instinctively feel better when we are walking through a natural setting such as a forest or wood, but why do we feel calmer and more relaxed in an interior lined with wood?
In one study by the University of British Columbia, researchers examined the positive impact on people’s emotional states when they were exposed to rooms with wood environments.
‘Wood creates relaxing environments for people’
“The results of this research indicate that wood rooms are positively regarded as ‘warm’, ‘comfortable’, ‘natural’ and ‘relaxing’. “Wood is an exceptional material that has benefits beyond aesthetic and structural properties. It is time to look at this material in a different light and focus on its ability to create relaxing, healthy environments for people,” write the authors.
Another study has underlined how wood interior design improved well-being in buildings such as schools and hospitals with research recording “higher occupant satisfactions”, while Japanese research for the Journal of Wood Science measured the impact on pulse rate, blood pressure and brain activity in room interiors featuring different ratios of wooden materials.
The researchers found that a room with just a 45% ratio of wood coverage provided a more subjective ‘comfortable’ feeling with significant decreases in blood pressure.
The next time, you park your car in a concrete walled carpark it might be worth thinking about the impact of those surroundings on your well-being and how much better you would feel surrounded by wood.